In 1 Timothy 3:1, the word "bishop" is feminine in Greek, so can women be bishops?

by Matt Slick
5/21/2017

In the ESV 1 Tim. 3:1 says, "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task."  The word for "anyone" is the Greek τις, tis.  It is in the masculine form in the Greek.  The word "overseer" is ἐπισκοπῆς, episkopas, and it is in the feminine in the Greek.  Some say that since the word "overseer" in the Greek is in the feminine, this verse is teaching women can be bishops. 

Literally what the Greek says is "if anyone aspires overseer," not "if anyone aspires to the office of overseer."  Here it is in interlinear form:

English   if anyone aspires to the office of overseer
Greek   εἴ τις ὀρέγεται, ἐπισκοπῆς
Literal Translation   if anyone aspires overseer

So, we can translate the verse to say "if anyone aspires to the office of overseer" as well as "if anyone aspires to be an overseer." Translations that include the word "office" are the ESV, NRSV, KJV, Net Bible, ASV, NASB, etc. The translations that don't include the word "office" are the NIV, NLT, NCV, ISV, etc.  Okay, so what do we make of this? 

Let's look at the context.  The word "overseer" in Greek in 1 Timothy 3:1 is in the feminine.  What follows is verse 2, which says, "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2).  Because Paul clearly says the overseer must be a man, then we can understand why some translations insert the word "office" in verse one because the position is what is being spoken about, not the person. It would be the office that is feminine. But, the one who occupies the office is masculine. 

This may not be the best illustration, but in Spanish the word for "office" is, oficina.  It is feminine in its form. But a man could hold a position, an office.  His relationship to the "feminine" office does not mean the man must also be feminine. It simply means that the office has a feminine form, but a masculine person can be in it. Likewise, the office of bishop can be said to be a feminine one but is occupied by a man, as verse 2 clearly demands.

Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 3:2, the phrase "husband of one wife" in the Greek is ἄνδρα μιᾶς γυναικὸς, andra mias gunaikos. 

  • andra = man, husband. "A man, i.e, an adult male person."1
  • mias = "One, the first cardinal numeral." 2
  • gunaikos = Woman, wife, 3

So Paul is clearly telling us that the overseer must be a "man of one woman" which is translated as "husband of one wife."  This refutes the counter argument.

Acts 1:20

Just to make sure we are really clear, let's consider a verse that backs up the assertion that the office is a feminine noun concept that is held by men.

Acts 1:20, "For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’"

The writer of Hebrews is quoting the Old Testament:  Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, respectively.  The word "office" here is in the feminine and it is the Greek word ἐπισκοπῆς which is the word overseer, the same word used in 1 Timothy 3:1. But notice that a man is to take his office.  Literally the Greek says "heteros," which is the masculine form of the word "another."  We could translate the word "heteros" into the English "anyone" but it would fail to carry the gender that is specifically included in the adjective which the Greek, but not the English, conveys.  Therefore, it is accurate to say that another (masculine) man is to take the office.  This is why, for example, the NASB translates it as "let another man take his office." 

Conclusion

It is not a valid argument to say that because the Greek word for bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1 is in the feminine form that we must then permit women to be bishops. The office itself is feminine but is held by men. This is clearly stated by Paul when he clarifies the qualifications for a bishop as being, literally, "a man of one woman," or "the husband of one wife."  A woman cannot fulfill this biblical requirement.

 

 

 

 

  • 1. Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000.
  • 2. ibid. Zodhiates, Spiros.
  • 3. ibid. Zodhiates, Spiros.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.